Pentagon chief, Turkish PM meet after decision to arm Kurds

Posted May 15, 2017

Pentagon chief Jim Mattis sought to allay Turkish concerns, saying at a news conference in Lithuania the USA would work very closely with Turkey over security on its border with Syria.

The meeting closely follows the US announcement that it would begin to directly arm "Kurdish elements" of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), its preferred partner in the ground war against Daesh in northern Syria.

A Pentagon spokesperson says both leaders affirmed their support for peace and stability in Iraq and Syria.

The decision is meant to accelerate the Raqqa operation but undermines the Turkish government's view that the Syrian Kurdish group known as the YPG is an extension of a Kurdish terrorist organization that operates in Turkey.

The U.S. sees the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, or SDF, as its most effective battlefield partner against IS in northern and eastern Syria.

Mattis and Yildirim meet for about 30 minutes before the start of an worldwide conference in London on security threats and humanitarian crises in Somalia. "The argument that a ground operation in the fight against Daesh (IS) would be successful only with YPG has nothing to do with reality", he said.

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"From our side, we want to keep good neighborly relations with Turkey", Redur Khalil said in a series of messages from Syria.

The dispute poisoned ties between Turkey and the United States under the administration of former president Barack Obama but Ankara had hoped for smoother ties under Trump.

Mattis has repeatedly downplayed the friction between the two nations, saying that while "it's not always tidy", they will work out any differences.

This decisive move on the part of the United States comes on the heels of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's White House visit next week, a meeting which will turn from an effort to dissuade President Trump from arming the Kurdish forces to one of President Erdogan coming to terms with America's strategy.

"I think Washington made such an evaluation when taking this decision". US officials have indicated that 120 mm mortars, machine guns, ammunition and light armored vehicles were possibilities. The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to publicly discuss the matter, said artillery or surface-to-air missiles would not be provided. "It will help us in the fight", Yunus said. Other officials said these safeguards are meant to reassure the Turks that the additional USA weaponry and equipment will not be used by the Kurds in Turkey. Talal Sillo, a commander with SDF, said no weapons have yet been delivered to the group but that the US-led coalition had said that fast delivery was expected from weapons already in Syria with the worldwide coalition.

Mattis stressed the enduring nature of the U.S. -Turkey relationship in a meeting with Prime Minister Binali Yildirim, the first face-to-face contact between officials from the two countries since the U.S. announcement about military support for the Syrian Kurds.